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U2 And How NOT To Roll Out A Sidewalk

June 8, 2021

About seven years ago, on September 9, 2014, the world got a free album. And they were really angry about it. The group was U2, one of the most popular and iconic groups in the world. Who wouldn’t want a free U2 album, right? I mean, even if you didn’t like U2, you could just throw it away, right?

Well, not quite. It was a digital download, so you just delete it. Problem solved. Who really cares?

It seems a lot of people really cared.

The problem was that U2 hadn’t bothered to ask anyone if they wanted a free album. They simply gave it to them. And because of Apple’s iTunes, they forced people to accept it.

Apple reached down inside of everyone’s copy of iTunes and inserted the album. It turns out people don’t really feel it’s a gift when they have no choice to accept it. Apple (and U2) learned a valuable lesson.

Amazon wasn’t paying attention in class the day they covered “forcing people to accept free stuff is a bad idea.” Introducing Amazon Sidewalk. Congratulations. You’re already enrolled.

Well, if you have an Amazon Echo or a Ring doorbell.

Sidewalk isn’t a terrible idea. (Just as U2’s album wasn’t a terrible album.) Sidewalk allows Echo and Ring devices to piggyback on your neighbors’ network signal if yours should be unavailable. And likewise, their devices can piggyback on yours if their signal becomes unavailable.

Great idea, right? Everyone’s system becomes a little more stable, because now your Ring doorbell won’t stop working if your router takes an unscheduled nap. What a wonderful idea?

Not so fast.

What about security? Should we be concerned that, you know, someone might hack my neighbor’s wifi and be able to access the video from my Ring doorbell?

Amazon assures us that they have taken all the necessary precautions to prevent unauthorized use.

That’s a relief. Wait, what? So, that might happen with authorized use? What if the government wants a peek? Amazon assures us they can’t. But, I’m betting the Patriot Act says they can. (Actually, they probably can even without Sidewalk, but why give them another threat vector?

And, I know all my neighbors. I like them. They’ve been in my house. I’m not sure I want them there uninvited. In fact, I’m sure I don’t want them there uninvited. The icky factor is even higher if you don’t know your neighbors.

Fortunately, you can opt out of Sidewalk. Google the name of your Echo or Ring device with t phrase “How to opt out of Sidewalk.” Honestly, the setting was kind of hard to find. I’m pretty good with computers and it took me a while to track it down.

Would I have opted in to Sidewalk if they had asked me to? Probably not. I only got a Ring doorbell a few months ago and I won’t allow Echo or Alexa devices in my house. But, they should have asked.

It seems like I don’t trust Big Tech to protect my privacy.

Absolutely accurate. I’ve worked with and for Big Tech too much to trust them any further than I can detect my wifi signal.

Oh, and that album that got U2 in trouble? In a fit of universal irony, the album was called “Songs of Innocence.”

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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